Today in our “Genres (and why we write them)” series, we have sometimes poet, sometimes fantasy author, Michael Meyerhofer. Follow Michael on Twitter or find him at his own website(s): www.wytchfire.com and www.troublewithhammers.com
Michael Meyerhofer: Writing Poetry and Fantasy
I’m sometimes asked whether I’m a fantasy author who also writes poetry or a poet who also writes fantasy, the assumption being that nobody could possibly approach two such wildly different genres with equal fidelity. It’s kind of like the parent who says they love both their children exactly the same, and part of you wonders, Do you really?
For me, though, the genres aren’t actually as different as they seem because what goes into making a good fantasy story is often very nearly identical to what goes into making a good poem. Sure, there are bad fantasy stories that have about as much depth as a dry lake, and bad poems that sound more like computer-generated Hallmark cards. But generally speaking, the good stuff in both genres uses imagery, action, and the avoidance of cliché to give readers what they want more than anything in the world: entertainment.
A while back, I published an essay in Brevity about how a working understanding of line breaks can make it a lot easier to write fiction because it helps you develop your own sense of lyrical energy and pacing. I’ve also noticed over the years that while some great writers stick exclusively to one genre, others develop their skills in several at the same time, which seems to help them put more tools in the toolbox. It’s also a lot of fun.
Let’s compare what might appear at first to be two totally different acts of writing: an attack by a skeletal dragon that breathes purple flames, and a homeless guy shyly asking for money so that he can attend his mother’s funeral. Let’s also assume that the first one is going to be written in prose and the second one in poetry, even though I’m sure you could reverse the two. Now, it might seem that the scene with the homeless guy would be easier to write because it requires less vivid description. After all, most of us haven’t seen zombie-dragons tumbling out of the blood-red sky, but we have seen fellow human beings suffer.
On the other hand, given all the tragedies in the news (not to mention the history books), most of us have become a bit numb to human suffering. This means that, as in the case of somebody who has trouble suspending their disbelief and imagining reanimated dragonbones, the trick is to avoid boring generalizations, tighten the focus, and make the scene so vivid that the reader simply cannot turn away.
Let’s go back to the parent who says they love their children exactly the same. Are they lying? Well, yes and no. Just as no two human beings are the same, no two pieces (or genres) of writing are the same either. Therefore, it would be kind of strange if we loved them without specifically acknowledging (and appreciating) their differences. I’ve always been drawn to the immediacy of poetry, what I guess I’d call its secular spirituality. I love the way you can use line breaks to play with the rhythm and create double-meanings, too. As for fantasy, even more than the action and wild creativity, I love the layered storytelling and the way everything builds on itself, not to mention the fun of incorporating real world elements into an otherworldly setting.
Writing in multiple genres has also been a great way for me to avoid writer’s block because whenever I feel myself getting a bit irritated or bored with one genre, I turn to the other and feel totally refreshed. That helps me be prolific without getting burnt out, which in turn keeps me sane and gives me an excuse to spend about half my salary at the local coffee shop.